Now in its fifth year the North West Audio Show has risen to be what I consider to be the best show that we attend and we are phenomenally happy to be their media partners. This year the show, held at the Devere Cranage Estate in Cheshire, had an amazing buzz going on social media in the weeks running up the show and subsequently turnout was fabulous – even the Sunday when we expected a lull because of England having a game on in the World Cup. The vibe at this show is like no other you will experience and there were people saying it felt less like a Hifi event and more like a great big family party that just happened to have some great Hifi systems playing. Add to this that the show is free, there is loads of free parking AND you get welcomed at the entrance by Kris’s (the organiser) fantastic team of helpers with a glass of fizz and you will understand why we are so happy to be media partners. It was also great to see other media at the show with Alan Sircom and Paul Messenger both in attendance. NEXT YEAR’S SHOW IS – Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th June 2019 at De Vere Cranage estate, in Cheshire. 

The live music provided by Scott Wainwright was brilliant and you can pick up his new CD here. He comes from Barnsley (like myself) and has a dry and brilliant wit that had the audience in stitches – “This is a song about when I invented hip-hop in my shed in Barnsley with Dr Dre…who isn’t a real doctor” (I may be paraphrasing as we’d just got back to the hotel from an evening out with Dave Robson and the crew from the audiophiles UK, Hi-fi and Music Facebook group – If you aren’t a member yet you should pop along and make a request as they are a great bunch of people.) His bluesy style had the audience in the bar on the Saturday evening clapping and whooping – I even had a bit of a jig with Lawrence from Aeron who had made the journey from Hong Kong – but then he had just been made an honorary member of the aforementioned Facebook despite his hometown being a long way from the UK.

There is a generally held assumption that this kind of show only plays host to high-end systems, and given the beautiful location and the fact that there was a visitor turn up in a McLaren sports car and another in a helicopter (the hotel had to phone air traffic because he thought the show was so good he popped off to bring two of his buddies) you’d be forgiven for thinking this the case, but there were some great budget systems on show too.

For The Budget Conscious

Alan from Kralk Audio, we have his Elite speakers in our mid-price review system, was showcasing a new pair of speakers in his TDB (The Dog’s Bollocks) range with a 12” woofer (TDB 12) costing £1200 – £1400 which he played some great techno with the speakers doing a fab job of bringing the tune alive. The TDB 12s are given the title “studio monitor” on the Kralk website and I get this entirely spending lots of time playing this kind of tunes in my own little studio. The design is a big three-way bass reflex (front firing) with a level pad to adjust mid and treble output to your own liking and I generally thought this a lot of speaker for the money. I get the feeling to get the very best results from these they will like a good bit of power up them and to be played hard as they were here.  Alan’s TDB range starts at just £185 with the TDB 2 of which there was a custom pair Alan had brought along for a customer done out in a Liquorice Allsorts-style livery. Also in this room were the fantatic, but not so much budget-minded were the fabulous looking Classic Turntable Company 301 and 401 clones.

Also at the budget end of things NVA had brought along an amp, pre and speaker system that costs just £600, again proof you don’t need to have McLaren money to get good sound in the home. The system comprised the tiny P20 passive pre, and A20 amp outputting 25 Watts into the company’s semi-omni directional speakers. The speakers split Lin and myself with me enjoying the sound and Lin not so much, but the company do run a loan scheme so customers can try before they buy and be their own judge.

In one of the public areas of the hotel Studio19 were demonstrating their Solo 500 speaker that produces 200 watts from its on-board amp and can connect by Bluetooth, HDMI or an Aux input making it very flexible. The unit was on sale for £399 and judging by the number of units people were buying the company are certainly doing something very right. I’m torn by this kind of product because on the one hand they are not Hifi in the traditional sense of the word, but they do bring good sounding music into the home in a convenient and affordable package that is unobtrusive, flexible and modern looking.

Aeron Audio headed up by the lovely Laurence Lau were presenting their teeny tiny power amp P-101 and C-101 pre-amplifier. The C-101 pre-amplifier/ headphone amplifier is just 115 x 117 x 49mm and 586g (approx.) It has USB, SPDIF, AUX, Line and MM/MC inputs, with Headphone, SPDIF, Bass and line outputs. It supports DSD 2.8/5.6MHz, PCM 384kHz/32bit and DSD native or DoP playback. It works with Apple and Android devices and can drive headphones in the range of 16 – 600ohm. It features a SABRE9018Q2C DAC and 12AU7 tube amplifier. The P-101 class D amp is the same diminutive size and it features a 3.5mm line in with speaker, pre, and two headphone outputs. Maximum output power is 50 W a channel. Now this may seem a lot of features but the pair, that is the full pre and power amp set up, costs just £239 per box. To me that seems a lot of bang for your buck. At the show the Aerons were playing with Arcaydis loudspeakers that we have reviewed in the past and very much enjoyed. Arcaydis also had their room in which had a good sound from speakers which look pretty basic affairs but sound very good indeed.

Blues Audio

Another set of speakers that won’t break the bank is Bluesaudio.

 

Mark Dolbear of Electromod had for the first time in the UK the Schiit Hifi system comprising of Schiit’s Vidar Amplifier, Schiit’s Saga Preamplifier and the Bifrost Multibit Dac with a pair of Kudos X2 loudspeakers using Audioquest entry level connections, the total price for the system not including source is under £3500. So, whilst this is certainly getting into the realms of seriously considered spend I’m including it here because we thought the sound to be exceptional for that kind of price.

Arrival

I keep banging on about what a wonderfully laid out venue Cranage is and most of the rooms are well appointed and well laid out, but the venue also allows plenty of space for those companies preferring to have static displays to display and sell their wares.

Even before you enter the building itself (via a red, though I like to think it pink carpet) the show was in full flow with Source Sound demonstrating just wat can be achieved with in car audio these days. Source Sounds had brought along a BMW Mini into which had been installed a discrete system which utilises an Audison bit Play HD as a source unit fed to an Audison bit ONE HD signal processor which looks after time alignment and equalisation and then onto an Audison Voce 5.1K HD five-channel amplifier where the hi-res digital signals are finally converted to analogue. The car had a three-way speaker system run actively which included a pair of Audison Thesis TH 1.5 II tweeters mounted in the front car pillars in custom pods while the standard 3” mid-range speakers had been replaced with Audison Voce drivers. The standard under seat woofers had been replaced with plug in replacements from German Manufacturer Eton and are now run as subwoofers.

Electromod had the first stand as you walked in the show displaying a whole load of products for visitors to buy and then we had a table full of Winyl record care products.

Supra cables are a North West Audio Show staple and seemed to be doing a cracking trade.

Russ Andrews had a really brilliant display of their cables, conditioners and Hifi tweaking products and the guys on the stand always looked busy and happy to help the many visitors who seemed drawn to their products. They also seemed to be doing a brisk trade.

Puritan Audio Labs had their mains treatment and distribution products on show and we hope to be able to bring you reviews of these in the near future.

Acoustand Audio had a range of interesting add on products on show in the corridor area. The company make custom turntables, plinths and accessories. 

On from the corridor you take the stairs down to the bar and at the bottom were Lateral Audio Stands who had a selection of what look to be very nicely thought out and engineered racks.

Coming Clean

Now £375 to clean your records may seem a lot but my thoughts are that if you are going to invest in vinyl, which it has to be said is not cheap with Linette having spent £100 on less than a handful of albums with Diverse Vinyl who seemed to be doing a roaring trade, then it is worth looking after it to prolong both it and your cartridge’s lifespan.

The Velvet Vortex record cleaner uses an ultra-sonic system and is said to be a very effective way of getting your records in a tip top condition. Looking forward to trying this in the future with users’ comments already being very favourable.

Kirmuss Audio also had an ultra-sonic record cleaning machine at the show and whilst more expensive than the Velvet Vortex it does have a patented suspension system that ensures all sizes of records are accommodated without the need to skewer them on a spindle. One of the UK Facebook group had brought along a first press of Dark Side Of The Moon to be cleaned and was very impressed with the results when it was later played on Mike Valentine’s system. Linette was also over the moon when they cleaned her spectacles.

There was also the full range of Winyl cleaning products on display for cleaning and protecting your records. We’ve tested out their Record Cleaning Gel in the past and whilst it is certainly more labour intensive than a dedicated record cleaning machine it does the job. (See previous photo)

The guys from The Missing Link also seemed to be doing a good trade on their stand with, amongst other things their Dust Buster stylus cleaner at just £21 – it works very well as we found out when we reviewed it.

Getting Around

Some of the rooms on the various floors will be covered by Linette or are mentioned elsewhere in this show report.

Icon Audio have been at the show previously and their room is always full of both people and product. 

High End Cables do what it says on the tin and Dave Jackson, the owner of the company was demonstrating Audience 1+1 V2 and The ONE V2 speakers using Audience AU24SX cabling for the first time at a UK show along with Nordost Power Cords, QRT mains products and Norma Electronics. The Audience speakers are interesting in their concept in that they have no woofers, no tweeters and no crossovers and are tiny – but they do make a big sound.

3 Square Audio make all their products out of Baltic Birch Plywood and their range includes the Translator floorstanding speaker and the Liberator standmount which today were being fed by a Music First preamp and NVA power amplifier. All wiring was by Wire On Wire which are an interesting design in that they are tuneable by the owner. I have enjoyed this room previously and this year’s show was no exception. I think the fact that the speakers use simple first order crossovers gives them a clarity and coherence that belies their relatively modest price-point (the Translator is £2800 and the Liberator the same with dedicated stands). The team of 3 Square and Wire On Wire take a lot of time in setting up their room and this shows. Three Square have now ventured out into producing racks and stands for equipment.

Malvern Audio Research took the Wright room at this year’s show which is one of the larger rooms and gave the hORNS Universum speakers a great space in which to show visitors what they can do. A good number of people we chatted to said they really enjoyed this room later in the weekend. The speakers were being powered by the all new Audio Detail Cerus Monoblocks which use a KR Audio 211 power tube. Pre/DAC was the Chela 04 whilst the phonostage for the day was the all valve NV 08. There was also a static display of Ming Da amps that had been tuned by Audio Detal. Very nice sounding room that deserved the recognition it was getting.

Up on the first floor and exhibiting at NWAS for the first time were Chord Electronics hosted by the company’s excellent Maurice Tryner who is UK Sales Manager who had a few UK firsts for visitors to the room. UK debut for Munich-launched Etude amplifier, UK debut for Munich-launched Hugo TT 2 desktop amp/DAC plus the BLU MKII digital/CD transport with M Scaler technology and the absolutely wonderful DAVE DAC/preamp/headphone amp. We didn’t get to hear it but there was also the TToby stereo power amp. This was a small room and Chord were using KEF loudspeakers and sensibly didn’t crank the volume up to what the room couldn’t cope with. Chord Electronics is not cheap by any standard but their kit always wind awards and I have said in the past that DAVE is the best DAC I have ever heard and when funds allow I will have on in my system as a reference by which to judge all others.

Ammonite Audio make a range of mounting collars for tonearms, plus selling other brands’ products and offering upgrades to to the Technics 1210 range of turntables. At this years show the thing that caught my eye was the Miyajima cartridge which utilises a cactus needle for the cantilever. The od looking, I think it looks beautiful, is the Soulines Kubrik – I reviewed it a few years ago and loved it. 

G-Point Audio had a couple of rooms, you’ll read more about one of them later, but in this room they had what i consider to be one of the nicest looking brands of electronics out there in the form of Thoress which are made in Germany. The full set up is: LDMS music server,  COS D1mkII DAC, THORESS Pre + AMPs, ALBEDO Silver mono-crystal cables ( Power +Spks + ICs), StavEssence digital cables ( CAT7 & USB), Verictum ( Power cables + fuses ), EXISTENCE EROTIC Loudspeakers and KBL SOUND Power bar

 

Stars And Tranquillity

Pretty much without exception all the exhibitors had gone to great lengths and put masses of energy and effort into making their rooms look good as well as sound great but the two standouts for me personally were Steve Helliker’s Ultimate Stream room where he had a darkened room with a star blanket on one wall giving a very glitzy showbiz atmosphere, and the Auden Distribution room which had a lovely light and airy feeling to it making you instantly feel at home. It is almost churlish to pick these two out in this “category” but when you walk into a room and it just feels right or out of the ordinary it cannot help but stick in your mind.

Steve’s Ultimate Stream room had a whole host of products that were making their UK debut at Cranage including: Auralic’s LEO GX Reference Clock which builds on the G2 Aries Streamer and G2 Vega Streaming DAC. It is said to significantly upgrade system performance and the system as a whole certainly did sound rather splendid. The Dutch & Dutch 8c Active Loudspeaker System is a capable and connected set up that are fully active where as well as connecting analogue and digital input, these speakers can now connect directly to your network enabling you to stream your favourite music direct from Roon. There’s even a fully customisable app. Also the Innuos ZENith Mk3 Server with new features including: EMI-treated Custom motherboard, Asymetrical isolation feet, Premium Triple-Linear Power Supply with ultra-low noise regulators and premium Mundorf Capacitors, using trickle down technology from the ZENith SE, Vibration and EMI treated SSD. Also in the room was the Electrocompaniet – EC Living Series. Steve has recently started distributing the Spirit Torino Luxury Headphones a new high-end Italian headphone brand which Linette tried out and enjoyed. 

Auden Distribution room was a calm and relaxed affair but beautifully laid out so visitors could easily get around and take their time to listen to the system.  This year at North West Audio Show, Auden Distribution showcased Amphion loudspeakers and CAAS Audio. The main system was a pair of Amphion Krypton3 driven by the CAAS e-pre, and 2 e-mono pre-power combination. The system used MusicWorks furniture, isolation and power products, and Audiomica labs interconnects and loudspeaker cables. Source was a Merging Nadac. A lovely system all in all and in a very nice room.

My Personal Favourites Of The Weekend

In the past we have given out the Hifi Pig Loves You award for what we thought was the best room of the show which was judged on the way the room looked, the sound and the way the exhibitors interacted with visitors but for this year’s North West Show we decided that so many exhibitors put so much effort into their rooms we would individually pick out our favourites and list them in no particular order. Here are mine in no particular order:

MCRU

One of the highlights of this year’s show was MCRU’s where David Brook had put together a really engaging and enthralling system. There was a terrific buzz about this room that had the show all a chatter – and rightly so. The system comprised a Fidata HFAS-1 Network Audio Server (£5995), CAD 1543 MKII DAC (£8750), Pass Labs INT-150 Amplifier (£7395), CAD GC1 ground control boxes (£1650) an IsoTek EVO3 Sigma mains conditioner (£2995) and finally a pair of Kerr Acoustics’ K100 loudspeakers costing £11995. Ok, so this is most definitely in the high-end price range but it sure did deliver on the day with a controlled and yet powerfully delivered sound that was detailed and engrossing.

The speakers are very much in the monitor style in their presentation and are a three-way with a 12 inch radial bass driver, a three inch dome (both by Volt) and a ribbon tweeter. And again, these set the show a twitter with their performance. Pictured below with the speakers is Jes Kerr their creator.

It’s pretty easy and sometimes foolhardy to put together a system just based on the price-point of each individual item, but what I think what David has done here is pull together a system of different brands and different products that truly work in synergy to bring more than the sum of its parts and he should be heartily congratulated for this. we were so engrossed in the sound in this room we forgot to take lots of pictures…

G-Point Audio

Greg (pictured below with Eunice from KR Audio) at G-Pont Audio and his lovely team had a couple of rooms at this year’s show, but for me it was the system in the beautifully appointed Appleton suite that really did it for me. Equipment used on the day was as follows: LDMS music server to Lampizator Pacific to LR Audio P135 DHT preamp to KR Audio Kronzilla VA680 amp. All signal cables from USB to the speakers were Skogrand Beethoven. Poers conditioner: Gigawatt PC4 EVO, Power cables was a mix during the day to get the right voicing, on the streamer it was Skogrand and on the rest of the equipment Albedo Gravity 1 and 2. Speakers were Diapazon Dynamis. Rack & platforms were from Rogoz Audio. Cable rests were Albedo Butterfly and equipment feet were Albedo CERMO whilst the ground conditioner was from CAD. To me the equipment used is really secondary to the emotional connection you get from listening to a piece of music – though obviously the equipment is the conduit through which this connection is made. And this room really connected me with a piece of music I don’t actually know to the point it made me cry. Now all of the above gear is pretty esoteric and expensive, but were I to be in a position to experience what I did on a daily basis at home I certainly would, though our system is no slouch in the connection side of things either. Incidentally, whilst in Munich there was one room that made a big emotional impact on me and that was the Tune Audio and Trafomatic room which was using Skogrand cables. The room was nicely laid out, the staff attentive and it seemed to be always full when we walked past.

Chasing The Dragon

We walked past this room on the Friday night when they were just finishing the final set up and were drawn in by the sound despite having a meeting to get to elsewhere in the hotel and we popped in a couple more times throughout the weekend. They sheer scale of this room was enormous and the ATC monitors filled the room with a sound that was powerful yet detailed that was massively appealing. I personally find it interesting that a couple of the rooms I most enjoyed and at least one pair of speakers are monitor types and I suspect we are going to see many more of this type of speaker in the future. Perhaps that’s because I’ve used them in various studios over the years.

Mike also did numerous lectures where he talked people through several of his recordings and especially focused on the direct cut master of of Eleanor McEvoy’s Greatest Hits plus some of the recordings he has made in Venice this year. He played and compared master tape, direct cut vinyl and hi-res files to a packed auditorium and speaking to people afterwards they were amazed at the differences in sound of some of the recordings.

Pure Audio Project

It’s no secret that I do enjoy an open baffle speaker when it is integrated properly and this means the crossover needs to be meticulously worked on – and this is what Pure Audio Project have done with this speaker. Playing a tune that I know very well and have played in clubs all over Europe and many times at home too, Hardfloor Acperience, I was able to hear that raw rasp of the Roland TB 303 through the ProCo Rat distortion as well as the hats in all their glory. The room wasn’t perfect and was a tad on the boomy side due to it been on a suspended floor, but Linette suggested to Se’ev that they go and speak to the good people at Townshend Audio and borrow a pair of their suspension platforms…they did and job done.

Willow Tree Audio/Hifi In Touch

This was pretty much the very last room we went in but what grabbed our attention immediately was that the folks running the room were dancing around in front of the set-up, something we do a lot at Hifi Pig Towers. Using a Convert Technologies unit (now available at a very good price indeed) and a pair of Horning Zeus loudspeakers, a hybrid design which sounded impactful, open and engaging. The system is elegant and unobtrusive and great sounding. I popped off to the bar after listening to this system for a short while, grabbed one of the UK Facebook group and took him back to have a listen. They had started to dismantle the system but happily put it back together for us to have another blast of a really very cool set up.

Round Up

There are several kinds of audio show that we have visited and I’ve found that they fall into three or four “vibes”. You have Munich and the like that are very much aimed at the higher end of the market and feel very much like business is been done on the distribution level and they feel pretty corporate. Then you have commercial shows that have a feel that people are there to sell product to the public and have very heavy footfall like the Bristol show. Then you have North West Audio Show which I think is unique in its approach. Yes, exhibitors are there to promote and sell their products but there is a feeling that they seem more willing to engage with visitors and the whole event has less of a corporate feel and more of, as has been mentioned, a day out to meet up with friends, listen to some tremendous music on some fabulous systems in a relaxed and unhurried atmosphere. The live music is a great addition as is the meet and greet when you arrive. Is this the future of Hifi shows? I don’t know the answer to that question as different shows cater to different audiences and all have their positive and negative points. All I can say is that North West Audio Show at Cranage is a fantastic couple of days out and so our thanks go out to all the exhibitors who almost without exception put masses of effort into their rooms, the people that put the show together, the hotel staff for making everyone feel so welcome and of course the people that turned up with friends and family to enjoy a great weekend of audio.

The People Of The Show

 

You must be logged in to leave a reply.

Real Time Web Analytics